I was surprised to find that 63% of respondents said they would not be willing. There were a wide range of reasons given for this answer, the most common being along the lines of not caring or don’t understand how it will help change anything. However, the most interesting thing to me was how many people said they didn’t want one due to privacy issues or the “Big Brother” effect. I usually laugh at comments like these (and I did this time too), but it made me realize that more people than I thought think this way. The following is an editorial I found on a conservative website called RFD America called Smart Grid: Government spying targets Rural America. The piece is an unintentionally funny response to the smart grid funding included in the stimulus bill.
Now while I don’t think that commentaries like this pose a serious threat to rolling out the smart grid, I do think it further highlights the need to educate homeowners on how the smart grid will work and how it will benefit both them and the community. Initial results from Boulder’s SmartGridCity pilot program have validated the need for education and have allowed the local utility Xcel Energy to modify its software in response to feedback. The WSJ article in the above link does a nice job of highlighting some of the negative feedback; like comments saying the system is “cumbersome”, “boring” or the online reports are too “abstract”. Fixing these things is important because it has been continually shown that providing people with complete and easy to understand information is crucial to saving energy. This is perhaps best illustrated with the creation of car dashboards that include fuel efficiency meters. The Toyota Prius has some version of this, but Ford’s new dashboard prototype has taken it a step further and made the concept more game-like. Extensive user research found that the most efficient drivers treat fuel efficiency like a game and are always striving to beat their “high score”. The WSJ article mentions similar findings from initial participants in the SmartGridCity experiment. Now while this is probably stating the obvious, I think that it will be important for smart grid software to take advantage of this mentality and make the system as “game-like” as possible.
While I think the increased focus on energy efficiency and the smart grid is great, I keep having the recurring thought that the biggest obstacle will be to get the public buy-in necessary to effectively implement the plans. Government can include all the money they want for these programs, but if you can’t get people to actually take advantage of it, what good does it do? Programs aimed at the commercial or public sector have already seen some level of success and are much easier to put into action due to there being fewer points of contact. However, residential changes are much more difficult to implement due to volume and educational challenges.
Residential by far has the most potential for energy savings as is shown in a 2004 Kema study on the net achievable peak demand savings by 2014. The difference between “base efficiency” and “advanced efficiency” is just a difference in program cost hypotheticals, but as you can see, there is much larger potential for residential savings under any level of funding.
Source: Kema Inc., City Public Service Technical and
Economic Energy Efficiency Potential Study, 2004
So again, this may be stating the obvious, but as we start to invest in the smart grid and test programs such as SmartGridCity, it is just as important that we start to educate the public on importance and benefits of such a system so that there will be enough buy-in to allow the plan to succeed. And perhaps more importantly, getting widespread buy-in will help increase the reach of Big Brother. Muwahhh! Muwahhhh!